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What Can Happen If a Child Does Not Receive the MMR Vaccination?

by Sharon Perkins

Not having your child immunized with available vaccines leaves him at risk for developing once-common communicable diseases. In the case of the MMR vaccine, not getting the vaccine would increase his risks of getting measles, mumps or rubella, which is also known as German measles. If he contracts any of these ailments, he could have symptoms that range from mild to severe. These viruses have not disappeared; they are still prevalent in many parts of the world. Outbreaks of all three have occurred in areas of the United States that have low rates of vaccination.

Measles

Regular measles, also called rubeola, can have serious side effects. Worldwide, measles kills several hundred thousand people a year, mostly children less than 5 years old, according to MayoClinic.com. As many as 15 out of 100 children who develop measles have serious side effects. Nine may develop pneumonia, five may develop croup and one may have a febrile seizure, according to the National Centre for Immunisation research and Surveillance, based in Sydney, Australia. One out of 1,000 develop encephalitis, a brain inflammation, according to MayoClinic.com. Another 26 will develop moderate side effects such as ear infection or diarrhea. In 2011, 222 people in the United States contracted measles; 40 percent caught the disease in foreign countries and brought it back to the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mumps

Mumps causes swelling and pain in the salivary glands, which gives the disease its characteristic chipmunk look. However, mumps can have effects that are more serious in males, who can develop painful swelling in the testicles. In rare cases, this complication can lead to infertility. Mumps can also affect the development of ovaries in girls. Encephalitis or of the spinal cord, called meningitis, can also complicate mumps. In 2006, a large outbreak of 6,584 cases of mumps occurred in the Midwest; 85 were hospitalized, according to the CDC. No deaths were reported.

Rubella

Generally, rubella is a mild disease in children, but it can have devastating effects on a fetus if a pregnant woman contracts it. Rubella starts with a mild fever and swollen lymph nodes. Rash develops after a day or two and disappears in about three days, leading to its other nickname -- the three-day measles. If a woman catches rubella in pregnancy, the disease can cause deafness, mental retardation, heart, eye, liver spleen or bone marrow problems, or intrauterine growth retardation in the unborn child. As many as 10 percent of young adults today have not been immunized against rubella, which could pose a serious risk to their babies if they contract the infection during pregnancy, according to Kids Health.

Community Immunity

If approximately 80 to 90 percent of your community immunizes their children with the MMR vaccine and you don't, your child has a low risk of getting measles, mumps or rubella. The idea behind of community immunity -- also known as herd immunity -- is that when at least 80 to 90 percent of people in an area are immune, a disease is unlikely to spread, according to science editor Dr. John Timmer on the ars technica website. If you travel to an area where these diseases still occur frequently, your child has a high risk of developing them. If someone brings the disease from an area where immunization isn't common, your child could become ill. If the percentage of non-immunized people drops too low, the disease will resurge.

About the Author

A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.

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